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Last week, Germany’s telecommunications regulator, the Federal Network Agency, said it had received 7,600 complaints about a so-called ‘Europol ploy’ in the month of June alone. 

The scam starts with a phone call which, when answered, plays an automated message saying that the police are waiting on the line. Users are then asked to press 1 to continue and those who follow the request are connected to a fraudster claiming to be from Interpol, Europol or the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA).

The scammers impersonate officials and tell their victims that they are involved in serious crimes or are victims of a crime, such as identity theft, and urge them to provide personal information and make payments.

The scam first appeared on the authorities’ radar in February this year and, since then, there have been 22,000 reported cases, though the number of unreported calls is expected to be several times higher.

The Guardian reported that, in the state of Bavaria alone, police have estimated the sum of damages amounting from this scam to amount to more than €2.5 million.

Fraudsters using ‘Call-ID spoofing’

In order to appear more trustworthy to their victims, the perpetrators of this scam use a special technical trick so that the number that appears on the screen of those called actually belongs to Europol, Interpol or a German police station.

This method is called ‘Call-ID Spoofing’ and helps scammers to convince their victims that they are genuine and trustworthy.

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In terms of the real identity of the fraudsters, the Federal Network Agency has determined that “the calls have reached Germany from foreign networks, for example, India, Romania or Spain.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is where the criminals are based, and merely indicates that the calls are routed across several network borders.

How to avoid getting scammed

The BKA advises people to simply hang up and not to allow themselves to be drawn into a conversation or be put under pressure from these kinds of callers.

If you think that a call might really be from a national or international police authority, you can always hang up, find the official number online and call it to check if the contact was genuine.

But, as a general rule, investigating authorities would never make demands for money over the phone or by e-mail.